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Idaho on the line for $15 million for school broadband

Idaho may be on the line for $15 million to fund a statewide school broadband network. The Idaho Education Network provides broadband access and remote video classes for schools throughout the state, but a dispute over the initial contract means legislators have to come up with millions to keep the program in place.

In Bonneville School District 93, students rely on the IEN every day. It is the primary provider for Wi-Fi access, and both Bonneville and Hillcrest High Schools use the video conference system.

“It concerned me a little bit that we are $14.5 million in arrears and it makes me wonder,” said Frank Cassidy, a teacher at Bonneville High School. Cassidy currently has 55 students enrolled in his psychology class. He teaches from Bonneville, but he also has students at Hillcrest who tune in via the video system from the IEN.

“The IEN is proven, vital education infrastructure in the school. Tens of thousands of students around the state use it. It’s the right thing to do to continue funding its operation without disruption,” said Jon Hanien, press secretary for Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter.

The problem is the provider has not been paid in full since last March. Seventy-five percent of the bill was supposed to be picked up through the Universal Service Administrative Co., ultimately under the Federal Communications Commission. A lawsuit regarding the contract decision to go with CenturyLink over Syringa Networks has resurfaced.

“The FCC has been investigating whether the state of Idaho actually processed the award of this contract through the proper purchasing rules and regulations,” said Rep. Jeff Thompson from District 30.

While the FCC investigates, it isn’t providing its portion of the funding. That’s $7 million owed since last spring. Now, Idaho needs to also front the cost for 2015– totaling $14.5 million from this year’s budget.

“That could be to take $15 million out of the Public Education Stabilization Fund that is scheduled to go into that account this year and bridge that IEN contract until the federal government sends those payments out,” said Thompson.

The concern is whether Idaho actually will be reimbursed. Local News 8 asked the governor’s office what would happen if the FCC determines the contract was not properly awarded. The answer was that the office could not speak on hypothetical situations or the lawsuit.

In Gov. Otter’s original budget proposal for this year, $3.5 million was proposed for technology expansion.

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